The Ages of Lulu (1990)
Innocent but willing to explore Lulu (Francesca Neri, Hannibal) agrees to have her vagina shaved when much older Pablo (Oscar Ladoire) promises to unveil a world of unknown pleasures. Soon the duo embarks on a kinky trip through the dark(er) corners of Madrid where transsexual prostitutes offer plenty for the right amount of money.
Breaking sexual taboos Lulu decides to leave Pablo even though they are now legally married. Pablo's old tricks have turned against him and the once shy girl isn't content with what he has to offer.
Jamon Jamon (1992)
Poor Sylvia (Penelope Cruz) becomes pregnant with rich boy Jose's child. Her mother (Anna Galiena, The Hairdresser's Husband), a local whore with plenty of admirers, foresees a lot of trouble but encourages Sylvia to follow her heart.
Jose's mother (Stefania Sandrelli, The Conformist) is unhappy with her son's prospects of becoming a father. She hires the local stud Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce and hurt Sylvia hoping that the poor girl will go away. But things take an unusual turn when Jose's mother decides to test Raul's bedding skills.
Golden Balls (1993)
Hardnosed and smarmy Benito Gonzales (Javier Bardem, Between Your Legs) has always had his way with women. To quench his enormous ego Benito marries the rich daughter (Maria de Medeiros, Pulp Fiction) of a local banker who agrees to finance his son-in-law's crazy dream: owning a skyscraper.
But when Benito's wife discovers that her husband has a mistress (Maribel Verdu, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and has been using her to access the money of her father something unusual happens – Benito's world crumbles with a bang...and so does his manhood!
The Tit and the Moon (1994)
Nine-year old Tete (Biel Duran) is upset that his newly-born brother has claimed sole possession of his mother's nipples. He is also concerned that his overworked father may not be supplying enough milk to his mother even though he tries his best at night. Tete begs the moon to provide him with a breast of his own and miraculously his wish is granted with the arrival of the beautiful French dancer Estrellita (Mathilda May, The Jackal).
Unfortunately for Tete someone else is also interested in Estrellita's body making it that much more difficult for the young boy to keep her for himself. Tete becomes angry!
One of the forerunners of the Spanish New Wave - together with Fernando Trueba, Vicente Aranda, Julio Medem, Juan Pinzas, and of course Pedro Almodovar - Bigas Luna has often been tagged by American critics as what he isn't: an Iberian copycat of Italian erotic master Tinto Brass.
Luna's colorful style of filming however has indeed proven difficult to defend. The director's passion for unconventional characters who suffer from conventional aches has produced a myriad of films with memorable stories. Unfortunately during the years the director's image has been tarnished by moralistic watchdogs who have repeatedly failed to recognize the talent of this gifted Spanish director.
Offering four of the director's most memorable works The Bigas Luna Collection produced by UK-arthouse Tartan Video is an excellent introduction to the world of the Spanish maestro as each of the films highlights a marquee for Luna theme.
In The Ages of Lulu the main theme is sexual liberation. Investigated through a notably unstable at the beginning character whose willingness to enter the world of the elderly places her in the middle of a rather unusual environment Lulu's story is both explicit and difficult to analyze at the same time. Furthermore, the film's honest look at sexual acts that are anything but welcomed by mainstream cinema – the line between normal and unconventional sex is intentionally blurred here – certainly gave Luna a name he never managed to evade. Not surprisingly The Ages of Lulu is as much of a film about sexual maturation as it is a story about societal expectations and morality.
In Jamon Jamon even thought sex is once again used lavishly the main theme is prejudice. Luna creates a colorful mini-portrait of the Spanish state where class division is still alive and well. Through a series of comic scenes where the main protagonists become entangled in a sea of compromising acts the director delivers a devastating punch to traditional Spanish values!
Not far behind is Golden Balls! Brash, hilarious, and spicy, this is a film that goes the extra mile in denouncing the world of the rich. From its too-honest-to-be-liked-by-many slam on Spanish capitalism (the half-erected skyscraper serves multiple roles here) to the native for Luna emphasis on sex the story lambastes Spanish machoism and greed with finesse only Almodovar could better.
The Tit and The Moon is by far the most innocent of the four pictures in this collection. With a great sense of humor and a delightful performance by nine-year old Biel Duran the picture enters its viewers into the world of a dreamy boy searching for the perfect pair of breasts. Described by Luna as his "most lovable picture yet" this is indeed a coming-of-age story with little if anything one could criticize.
How Does the DVD Look?
The set-produced by Tartan Video is marketed as containing "newly-remastered" features. Indeed this appears to be the case!!
The Ages of Lulu is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TV's. Unlike the previous release by Tartan which was cut by the censors in the UK this new presentation of the film is indeed uncut. Unlike the Spanish R2 disc which was uncut but not enhanced for widescreen TV's the R2 UK disc is indeed provided with anamorphic enhancement. This being said the actual print is in very healthy condition: colors are convincing, contrast is well-handled, and edge-enhancement is not an issue of concern. I noticed some minor compression artifacts but on the whole the new print by Tartan is indeed a substantial improvement over all previous English-friendly versions of this film. As it is my only dissatisfaction with this DVD is the tiny overcompression of the image.
Jamon Jamon is the weakest of all four transfers in this set. Once again Tartan have visibly improved the quality of this disc (over the previous non-anamorphic release) but unfortunately I see a good deal of dirt. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 this time around the film is given anamorphic transfer. Contrast is slightly above average, colors appear a bit washed-out, and specks occasionally pop-up here and there. On a positive side however this is the best the film has ever looked (I have been through four different releases) and I am most certainly thankful that Tartan have went the extra mile to at least provide 16/9 enhancement. Yes, the print could have matched the quality from the other three discs in this set but still I am pleased with what I have in my hands.
Golden Balls is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs. The print for this film is in great condition as colors are exceptionally strong, contrast is great, and print damage is nowhere to be found. Edge-enhancement is present on a few scenes but overall is at a very tolerable level. Furthermore, when blown out through a digital projector the image does not break down, it remains solid all throughout.
The Tit and the Moon is also presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs. Even though there have been some concerns pertaining to the film's original aspect ratio (the Spanish disc by WB is incorrectly marked as being in 1.85:1, it isn't, it is a misprint and the Spanish disc is also in the proper 2.35:1 ratio) I must assure you that indeed this is how Luna intended his film to be seen. The actual print is in very good condition, with good color reproduction, well-handled contrast scheme, and a dose of edge-enhancement which I found to be anything but intrusive. Furthermore, aside from a few tiny dots in the opening credits the print is free of debris, damage, or other notable imperfections. All four discs are PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The Ages of Lulu is presented with its original 2.0 Spanish track and optional English, white and of decent size, subtitles. The audio appears to have been restored and indeed the result is a good-quality soundtrack without any intrusive imperfections. I did not detect any hissings, drop-outs, or other disturbing issues.
Jamon Jamon also arrives with its original Spanish 2.0 track with optional, white and of decent size, English subtitles. Similarly I could not detect any disturbing imperfections with the audio presentation here but I must note that it would have been a fabulous choice if Tartan had added a more elaborate audio mix. The music in Jamon Jamon is truly beautiful and as it is I feel that the 2.0 soundtrack does not truly recreate the Mediterranean environment the picture feeds off of. Nevertheless the 2.0 track is acceptable!
Golden Balls offers a greater selection of audio tracks. Here we have a Spanish 2.0, Spanish 5.1, and a Spanish DTS tracks with optional, of decent size, white English subtitles. Indeed, one can easily hear the difference between the different mixes as the DTS track in particular brings out the beautiful soundtrack of the film with an impressive clarity. A well done job by Tartan which compliments the film marvelously!
The Tit and the Moon arrives only with a standard 2.0 Spanish track and optional white English subtitles. Once again I felt that Tartan could have gone the extra mile and provided a DTS track for this release as well – the main theme is hauntingly beautiful and it is a shame that a more elaborate mix was no created for this disc. As it is however I have nothing to be unhappy with here as the audio is indeed clear and dialog easy to understand. Finally, I could not detect any hissings, audio drop-outs, or other disturbing imperfections.
There isn't much in terms of extras in this set. Aside from the theatrical trailers that appear on each DVD the only other supplemental materials are two interviews with Bigas Luna - one on the Golden Balls disc and one on The Tit and the Moon disc. These are extremely short and as far as I could tell are practically parts of one bigger piece where the director provides general comments regarding his work. The two interviews are nothing more than a collection of scattered memory recollections.
First of all I am incredibly happy to have this set in my collection. During the years I've owned a number of different discs, from a number of different countries, with a number of different issues, and I can assure you that this collection is as close to being complete as possible. Yes, there are a few minor issues here (the not so satisfying image quality on the Jamon Jamon disc, the lack of serious extras, etc) but in the greater scheme of things this is indeed a fabulous collection that presents a portion of Bigas Luna's talent in a deserving way. Secondly, the director's work has been untouched by the hands of the watchdogs. Lastly the films in this collection are of substantially better quality than their poor R1 rivals. It is that simple!!
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.